The Fairgrounds Racetrack in New Orleans was filled once again with jazz, blues, Cajun, zydeco, gospel, rock, R&B and other music flavors for the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival 4/26 through 5/4. The high point of the festival was the closing night reunion of the Neville Brothers, the local First Family of Funk which dispersed after Hurricane Katrina forced evacuation of the Crescent City in August 2005, but there was plenty of other quality music on 11 stages over seven festival days. Most of the famous bars and restaurants of the French Quarter and Uptown are back in business and Bourbon Street once again is corrupting the morals of tourists. If the bars aren’t quite back to 24-hour operation, they offer merriment well past midnight, a marked advance from the past couple years since the flooding.

The Corps of Engineers spent $800 mln to restore the levees protecting New Orleans to pre-Katrina strength, capable of withstanding a Category 3 hurricane, but critics say $10 bln is needed to protect the metropolitan area against a Category 5 storm such as Katrina.

And while the French Quarter and the business district appear to be approaching normality, jobs go wanting due to lack of affordable housing for service employees. Chevron became the latest large employer to vacate the city, moving the last of its 550 employees from its downtown office building across Lake Pontchartrain to Covington. Many small businesses were unable to reopen because they couldn’t qualify for Small Business Administration loans—particularly when their only collateral was their wrecked house. Those businesses that have reopened complain of soaring insurance and property taxes.

State and federal aid has gone to 130,000 homeowners as the population has recovered to an estimated 302,000, from a pre-Katrina population of 454,000, but many residents are still struggling to find the money to repair their homes. The subprime mortgage meltdown has tightened credit and rising rental costs have priced many working people out of the city. As federal officials proceed with plans to demolish public housing units in New Orleans, UNITY of Greater New Orleans estimates the homeless population of New Orleans has reached 12,000, or one in 25 residents. Cities with homeless rates closest to that of New Orleans are Atlanta (1.4%) and Washington (0.95%), USA Today reported. A survey by the newspaper in 2005 found that one in 400 Americans are homeless. Hundreds of people are living in tents and makeshift housing in places such as the Interstate 10 overpass at the corner of Canal Street and Claiborne Avenue. About 24,600 travel trailers and mobile homes are still occupied in Louisiana and Mississippi by people dislocated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September 2005. Mayor Ray Nagin has pushed to move the homeless and people in the remaining 5,700 FEMA trailers in New Orleans into more permanent shelters before the 6/1 start of the hurricane season because of concerns that they would be unsafe in storms. Nagin is seeking permanent housing vouchers for 3,000.

Many of those homeowners finally received funds from the state’s Road Home program after waiting through delays in processing the applications, but they have been unable to proceed with rebuilding because they don’t have enough money to finish the job and there is a shortage of skilled construction workers.

Wade Rathke, chief organizer at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), said the tight credit situation has “kneecapped the housing industry,” not only in New Orleans but across the country. ACORN had hoped to put together as many as 250 home rebuilding projects in the 9th and Lower 9th Wards by now, he said, but after completing the first two homes last year the bottom fell out of the mortgage industry and lenders began scrutinizing loan applications to a degree that effectively excluded ACORN’s working-class members. “It’s like a second set of storm clouds over the rebuilding of the city,” Rathke told TPP.

Many property owners are on the brink of turning over their property to the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, Rathke said. “We need a break here and we’re just not getting it,” he said.

After meeting privately with local, state and federal leaders over lunch at Galatoire’s, a famous French Quarter restaurant. President Bush said (4/22) that even with $120 bln of taxpayer money allocated to rebuild the Gulf Coast, the federal government remains committed to providing more for the recovery, including money to fight crime, to restore health care and to replace the public housing units with mixed-income developments, the New Orleans Times Picayune reported. Bush was in town to meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and business executives, also behind closed doors, to discuss trade, security and immigration issues. “People who say, ‘Get rid of NAFTA’ as a throw-away political line need to understand that NAFTA has been good for America,” Bush said at a news conference, referring to the 15-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement that critics say started the movement of 3 mln manufacturing jobs overseas.

A study of voting trends found that about 100,000 fewer people cast ballots in New Orleans and seven surrounding parishes in last year’s gubernatorial election than in the 2003 race. The analysis by University of New Orleans political scientist Ed Chervenak found that the number of black voters and Democratic voters in the eight-parish region fell 41% and 32%, respectively, the Baton Rouge Advocate reported (4/15). Statewide Dems in the past counted on bid majorities in New Orleans to offset GOP votes elsewhere. Chervenak said the loss of black voters in New Orleans was “dramatic.’’ More than 84,000 black New Orleanians cast ballots in the 2003 governor’s race, but in the 2007 race only 39,000 black voters turned out in the city. (JMC)

NET PLAYERS PLAN NEW ORLEANS DEBATE. Internet giants Google and YouTube announced plans 4/29 to host a major post-convention presidential forum in New Orleans independent of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which announced in November its three presidential debate sites—Oxford, Miss.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Hempstead, N.Y., claiming that New Orleans was incapable of hosting such an event, despite hosting college football’s championship game and the NBA All-Star game. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama joined Louisiana officials in criticizing the exclusion of New Orleans, but neither Dem nor John McCain (R) has committed to participate. The New Orleans debate would be held 9/18 at the Ernest Morial Convention Center, eight days before the Oxford, Miss., debate.

CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION ROUNDUP. Texas may be trending purple, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) under 50% support in at least two polls, as little-known state legislator from Houston threatens to make a race in George W. Bush’s home state. Research 2000’s poll for DailyKos.com showed Cornyn leading state Rep. Rick Noriega (D) by only 48% to 44% (5/5-7. Rasmussen Reports showed a similar 47-43 lead for Cornyn (5/1). GOP Presidential candidate John McCain does better, leading Obama 52-39 and Clinton 53-38 in the Research 2000 poll.

At least three polls show a tight race in North Carolina between Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) and state Sen. Kay Hagan (D), Dailykos.com noted (5/12). In New Mexico, Tom Udall (D) is favored over either Rep. Steve Pearce or Rep. Heather Wilson, who are competing in the 6/3 GOP primary for the seat Sen. Pete Domenici (R) is giving up. In Oregon, both Dems competing in the 5/20 primary, House Speaker Jeff Merkley and Steve Novick, are holding Sen. Gordon Smith (R) under 50%. In New Hampshire, Sen. John Sununu (R) is viewed as vulnerable to former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) as CQ rates N.H. “no clear favorite.” And a poll conducted by Research 2000 for the Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV showed Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) below 50% support against either Greg Fischer or Bruce Lunsford, who are competing in the 5/20 Democratic primary.

In Colorado, which is rated “no clear favorite” for the seat Sen. Wayne Allard (R) is giving up, Rep. Mark Udall (D) is expected to face Rep. Bob Schaffer (R), who said the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory, was a model for a guest-worker program in the US, just a few weeks before President Bush signed S. 2739 into law applying US immigration law to the stop the abuse of labor in the Marianas.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), whose challengers include Al Franken, held a fundraiser in Boston with Jim Ogonowski, who is challenging Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) The fundraiser attracted 30 guests. David Wade, a Kerry spokesman, noted, “The truth is, it’s a natural fit. Norm Coleman and Jim Ogonowski have something in common: After November neither of them will be serving in the Senate.” CQ rates Minnesota “no clear favorite” and Mass. “safe Democrat.” (Arjun Jaikumar, DailyKos.com)

The top GOP target is Sen. Mary Landrieu (R-La.), challenged by state Treasurer John Kennedy, who recently switched parties to run as a Republican only to get a GOP primary challenge from rare-coin dealer Paul Hollis.

House races include Miss. 1, the seat Roger Wicker (R) gave up to be appointed to replace Sen. Trent Lott (R), who quit to become a lobbyist. It should be a safe GOP district with a 62% vote for George W. Bush in 2004, but Travis Childers (D) got 54% to beat Southaven Mayor Greg Davis (R) in a runoff (5/13) after Dems put $1.8 mln into the district, forcing the GOP to dump over $1.3 mln. Childers’ victory should encourage Dem hopes that in November former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D), with three statewide races in his past, will pick up the Senate seat from Wicker, who has never run statewide.

Childers’ win in Mississippi will add to the Republicans panic after Dems (5/3) picked up another “safe” GOP seat Rep. Richard Baker (R-La.) gave up to become a lobbyist. State Rep. Don Cazayoux (D) beat businessman Woody Jenkins (R) in La. 6, which gave 59% to Bush in 2004 but absorbed tens of thousands of displaced residents from New Orleans in 2005. Terence Samuel noted at Prospect.org (5/9) “former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sounded the alarm, urging fellow Republicans to change or face disaster. Last Monday (5/5), conservatives all across the country got an email from Gingrich that began, ‘The Republican loss in the special election for Louisiana’s Sixth Congressional District last Saturday should be a sharp wake up call for Republicans: Either Congressional Republicans are going to chart a bold course of real change or they are going to suffer decisive losses this November.’ The architect of the 1994 Republican Revolution went on outline what may be its final collapse, suggesting that the GOP is so badly damaged and unpopular with voters that it could cost John McCain the election, despite his personal popularity and appeal to independents. ‘... There is a grave danger for the McCain campaign that if the generic ballot stays at only 32% for the GOP, it will ultimately outweigh McCain’s personal appeal and drag his candidacy into defeat.’”

The Cook Political Report has noted movement in House races that include: Alaska, Don Young (R), from lean R to toss up; Calif. 11, Jerry McNerney (D), from lean D to toss up; Conn. 2, Joe Courtney (D), from likely D to solid D; Fla. 21, Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R) from solid R to likely R; Fla. 24, Tom Feeney (R), from likely R to lean R; Kan. 2, Nancy Boyda (D), from lean D to toss up; Ky. 3, John Yarmuth (D), from likely D to lean D; Ind. 2, Joe Donnelly (D), from likely D to solid D; Ind. 7, Andre Carson (D), from likely D to solid D; Mich. 7, Tim Walberg (R), from lean R to toss up; Mich. 9, Joe Knollenberg (R), from likely R to lean R; Mo. 06, Sam Graves (R), from likely R to lean R; NY 13 Vito Fossella (R), from likely R to toss pp; NC-11, Heath Shuler (D), from likely D to solid D; Ohio 2, Jean Schmidt (R), from lean R to likely R; Ohio 14, Steven LaTourette (R), likely R to solid R.

The New York Times, in its Caucus blog, reported (5/12) House Republicans hoped to counter the Democratic push for change from the years of the Bush administration by adopting a new slogan, “Change you Deserve.” But BluestemPrairie.com noted that the phrase already is trademarked by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals for the prescription drug Effexor, which “is used primarily for the treatment of depression, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder in adults.”

House GOP Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is not looking for too much change, as he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (5/11) that John McCain wants to continue Bush’s “pro-growth” tax policies (which have grown the national debt to $9 tln, among other things). “ So it would be in effect a third Bush term when it came to pro-growth tax policies?,” Blitzer asked. “It would be,” Blunt replied. “I think it would be. And I think that’s a good thing.”

Jonathan Singer noted at Mydd.com (5/11) that Bush’s rating on the economy stood at 27% to 28% positive and AP and ABC polls in April, with 70% of Americans disapproving of the job that he is doing on economic matters in both polls. “So if the Republican Party, and even better John McCain, want to hug President Bush on the economy, I’m totally fine with that,” Singer wrote. “In fact, I’d probably be fine with a group—whether on the right or the left—running ads quoting House Republican Whip talking about how McCain would represent a third Bush term on the economy. I think that should do the party really well come November.”

DEVIL IN DETAILS OF EMISSIONS CAPS. John McCain announced a climate change policy on 5/12 that included a cap-and-trade program that would cap emissions according to specific goals, working toward a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Sounds good, but Kevin Drum noted at WashingtonMonthly.com (5/12) that Obama’s plan calls for a reduction of 80% and while McCain would give away emission permits, treating pollution as an entitlement, giving the polluting industries a windfall. Obama (and Clinton) would auction the permits, which would allow the government to use the revenue to relieve what amounts to a carbon tax on the poor.

BLUE DOGS, ANTI-WAR DEMS THREATEN WAR FUNDS. The House Out-of-Iraq Caucus might join with conservative Dems and Republicans to block a $183 bln supplemental spending bill that authorizes more Iraq war operations. Leaders of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats object to a new GI Bill of Rights, authored by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) that would give veterans money for college and cost $720 mln in its first two years. The Blue Dogs complain that the GI Bill cost is not offset with tax hikes or other spending cuts. “Some of us oppose creating a new entitlement program in an emergency spending bill, whether it’s butchers, bakers or candlestick-makers,” said Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), a founding member of the Blue Dog Coalition, according to The Hill (5/7). Other Blue Dogs, like Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), don’t want to oppose benefits for veterans. “It’s a cost of the war,” Barrow told The Hill. But blocking the bill wouldn’t require all 47 Blue Dogs; it takes only 15 if Republicans, as expected, vote against the procedural motion to bring up the bill.

OBAMA CAN’T ASSUME HILLARY’S DEBT. There has been speculation that Barack Obama might agree to help Hillary Clinton retire her campaign debt in exchange for her support in the general election, but Obama supporters should not be concerned that their contributions to Obama would end up going to pay off some of Clinton’s attack ads against Obama. Dana Houle, a contributing editor at DailyKos.com, noted (5/10) that under federal election law it would be illegal for the Obama campaign to donate more than $2,000 to Clinton’s campaign. What Obama can do is ask his donors to contribute to Clinton’s campaign, Houle noted. Obama’s campaign could send out email appeals to small donors to help Clinton pay off her debt. “Helping Clinton pay off her debt would not be a simple act of altruism by Obama,” Houle added. “It would be in Obama’s self-interest to help take the debt issue off the table if it facilitated her exit from the race and helped avoid the distractions of delegate challenges and talk about ‘taking it to the convention.’”

CONGRESS OUTLAWS GENETIC DISCRIMINATION. With little fanfare or rancor, Congress approved a bill to ban genetic discrimination by health insurance companies. The House voted 414-1, with only Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) voting to maintain the free market in insurance. The Senate approved it unanimously and President Bush is expected to sign it. Kevin Drum of WashingtonMonthly.com noted (5/12), “Conservatives all claim to believe that the private market is the best way to provide health insurance. And yet, given a close look at exactly what that means, they voted to outlaw the very thing that makes private insurance work: rational discrimination. The reality was just too ugly to support. If a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged, I guess that means a liberal is a conservative who’s been denied insurance because of a congenital condition.”

NEV. GOP FOILS PAUL POWER GRAB. Nevada Republican Party leaders abruptly shut down their state convention (4/26) when it appeared Ron Paul supporters turned out in greater numbers than expected and were poised to gain more national delegates than expected against supporters of expected Republican presidential nominee John McCain. “I’ve seen factions walk out. I’ve never seen a party walk out,” said Jeff Greenspan, regional coordinator for the Paul campaign. Party leaders will resume the event later, presumably when they are sure of a McCain majority, to complete a list of 31 delegates to the GOP national convention.

NO FREE RIDE FOR NANCY. Republicans aren’t the only ones under fire. Shirley Golub is challenging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the 6/3 Democratic primary. Golub has produced an ad that compares Pelosi to a rubber chicken for failing to stand up to the White House on impeachment, torture, ending the funding for the Iraq occupation and other issues. “We did not put Democrats in the majority to replace a rubber-stamp Congress with a rubber-spine one,” Golub said. “We the people gave them an overwhelming mandate in the last election, but they have been terrified to take responsibility for exercising that power.” If Pelosi gets past Golub, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan hopes to collect 3,000 signatures by June to get on the ballot to challenge Pelosi as an independent candidate. “I want to challenge not only Nancy Pelosi but also the two-party system,” she told TPP. Pelosi also has Republican, Libertarian, and Socialist Workers opponents in the federal election.

PROG DEMS LIKE FALLON, TAYLOR. Progressive Democrats of America has endorsed Ed Fallon’s Democratic primary challenge of Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) in Iowa’s 3rd District and Harry Taylor in North Carolina’s 9th District, bringing the total number of endorsed candidates to 15. Fallon, a progressive former state legislator, is challenging Blue Dog Dem Boswell. Taylor won a primary contest to challenge Rep. Sue Myrick (R), who among other things recently called for revoking the passport of former President Jimmy Carter. The 9th District voted 63% for Bush in 2004. See www.pdamerica.org.

DARE TO HOPE. Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) should be safe in the wealthy suburban St. Louis 2nd District, which went 60% for George W. Bush in 2004, but he has drawn five Democratic challengers as well as a Libertarian. Byron DeLear, a music producer and peace activist who ran as a Green candidate against Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) in 2006 but returned to his hometown as a Dem to take on one of the most extreme conservative Bush Republicans. DeLear told TPP that since Dems have won former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s old seat in Illinois and the 1st District in Mississippi, they can dare to hope in Mo’s 2nd.

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2008

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